The Neobase Is Your Own Private Social Network In A Box

Neobase-Still-COMP-V011815-04 With the growing number of large-scale hacks and revelations of government surveillance still fresh on people’s minds, a company called Neone is introducing a way for families and friends to more privately share content, including files, photos, videos and more, with one another without having to rely on the cloud. Instead, with a piece of hardware it’s calling the Neobase… Read More

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Amazon’s ‘Write On’ Crowd-Publishing Platform Opens To All

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 2.18.15 PM Amazon has a new crowd-publishing platform called Write On, which is a direct competitor to Wattpad, the social network with self-publishing authors offering up their content for free, and working together with the community to incorporate feedback into their ongoing work. The Amazon version launched last October as an invite-only beta, but now it’s a full-fledged product available to… Read More

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Facebook’s New Ads Automatically Show A Business’ Products That You’ll Want Most

Facebook Shutterfly You’ve probably seen plenty of products advertised on Facebook, but today the company is announcing a new unit called product ads, with features aimed specifically at helping businesses sell their products.
The big difference is that the ads are dynamically optimized, meaning that the products you see will be tailored based on your activity and interests. Basically, they adapt to show… Read More

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Facebook Graph Search Out For All U.S. English Users, Hiding Timeline Search By Name Setting Dies Today

graph-search-2

Facebook’s Graph Search, the tool that lets you search in plain language across information shared by friends and anyone on Facebook to find stuff like “People who live in my city from my hometown,” or “Friends of friends who like Paula Dean,” or whatever other weird and terrible combination you can dream up, is now available to all users on the platform with U.S. English set as their default language.

Graph search, for those who don’t have it yet, is a pretty fun diversion and an admittedly useful tool in certain contexts (like looking up people you might want to connect with when visiting a new place for the first time, and who might be connected to you in some meaningful way), but it’s also the perfect opportunity for everyone to revisit their privacy settings, especially as Graph Search improvements on the roadmap for future introduction include even more granular capabilities, like parsing individual posts and comments, and becoming available on mobile.

As Facebook itself notes, that means this is when you should be looking at who has access to what in your FB privacy settings, to insure that the unprecedented scope of the new Graph Search tools don’t encroach on territory you’d rather keep private… but the full roll-out of Graph Search also comes alongside the death of one of the features that might be most sorely missed by Facebook users who also happen to be privacy enthusiasts.

Facebook announced back in December that it would be retiring the “who can look up my timeline by name?” setting in the “coming months,” citing very limited use anyway, and the fact that it actually didn’t prevent discovery from other means anyway. What it did was prevent people from seeing you in results if they searched for your name directly in the Facebook Search bar – which, despite their attempt to minimize its importance, was probably something people who didn’t like it very much appreciated being able to turn off.

The official line from Facebook is that “[n]ow that people have had an opportunity to explore [its new privacy controls introduced back in December,] we are starting to retire this setting for the small percentage of people that use it.” But that’s likely to do much to reassure users who aren’t thrilled about Graph Search’s advanced discovery powers to begin with. Still, Facebook has been very upfront about its goals: you don’t build a knowledge graph by defaulting to making your social network as private as possible.

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From The Makers Of Everyme, Origami Launches Its Private Sharing Service For Families

Origami_Logotype

Origami, the new family-focused product from Y Combinator-backed mobile social network Everyme, has now arrived after nearly a year of development. A spin-off of sorts, Origami takes some of the original inspiration behind Everyme – that people are looking for new ways to share outside of larger, more open social networks like Facebook – and tweaks the formula to address the needs of parents and families, specifically.

“What we saw pretty early on was that probably 50 percent of the usage on Everyme is families,” explains Origami co-founder Vibhu Norby. “And that’s 50 percent of total Circles [Everyme’s groups], but in terms of actual usage, it was almost 100 percent of people using it with their families,” he says. “We felt like we found the market, but the product itself wasn’t really intended for that.”

Sustained by its $2.15 million A round, the company has been focused on Origami, a new product build from the ground up, since August 2012. Like Everyme, Origami offers both a web and mobile platform that allows families to connect with each other in a private group, and share photos. But the service goes further, too, offering tools for sharing videos, creating albums, and adding text-based entries for posting stories, recipes, or other notes.

Launched into private beta this February, 90 percent of the families on Origami today are new parents. “They take the most photos, they share the most photos, and they have the biggest desire for privacy,” says Norby. “We really want to work with the parents’ workload – the idea that they take photos all day long, they take a lot of photos on weekends especially, and they don’t have time to share every single photo in real-time. They want to sit down when the kids are in bed, and think about sharing them then,” he says.

With the new service, parents can set up a homepage for their family, and even grab a custom domain which Origami acquires on their behalf. (e.g. “JonesFamily.com,” “JonesFamilyPics.com,” etc.) The site itself, like Everyme, is beautifully designed and simple to understand. Buttons on the right side of the homepage direct users to share a photo, video or story, and another feature called “Family Request” lets users prompt other family members to share photos, videos, or stories of their own.

Another section of the site lets users create photo albums, and allows for import from your computer as well as a number of other photo-sharing sites including Facebook, Picasa, Flickr, and SmugMug. These collections can also be shared via email, or back out to Facebook and Twitter.

At launch, Origami also has apps available for iPhone and Android, understanding that not all family members may be using the same mobile platform. Here, users can also post and view the moments and photos albums, plus receive notifications when new content has been added.

The service still has some kinks to work out – not bugs, necessarily, but places where the experience could be a little smoother. For example, if you go to upload from social services, there’s no way to retrieve the photos y0u haven’t already put into albums; it also can’t access those photos you’ve been auto-uploading from your phone to Facebook, Google or Dropbox (the latter two of which are not supported), and in some places on mobile, it’s missing multi-upload. But the product is still in development, and many of these features are still in the works. For example, the multi-upload function is just two weeks away.

Overall, the site fills a niche that many other mobile-only or mobile-first startups have ignored: that parents may want more of fully-fledged social experience, rather that just an app. Often, new parents (and especially moms) turn to standard blogging platforms these days instead of traditional “baby books” to record those early memories, but Origami offers another option for that kind of sharing with a service that falls somewhere in between a Tumblr for parents and a private social network.

Norby says the company’s vision is to re-create the experience of “home,” and that’s something which the real domain names it gives its users’ websites provides. “Facebook is not a home, let’s be honest – it feels like another person’s service,” he says. “[Origami] is private. It’s its own place somewhere on the Internet.”

Origami is not free, but its pricing, like the service itself, is simple. There’s only one tier: after a free 30-day trial, it’s $5 per month (discounted to $50 per year, if billed annually) for unlimited photos, videos, members, and the custom domain.

Really my only problem here is that I have to figure out how to import all the content I have spread out across all those other family-focused and private social services – Path, Notabli, Kidfolio, 23snaps, Tweekaboo, Hubble, Famil.ioFamiliar, and others.

Being an early adopting parent can be tough.

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Facebook helps you log back in with a little help from your Trusted Contacts

Facebook helps you log back in with a little help from your Trusted Contacts

Facebook wants you to log in. Real bad. But the social network hasn’t traditionally gone out of its way to streamline password recovery. The site’s finally make things a little smoother with Trusted Contacts, a redesign and rebrand of its Trusted Friends offering. Go into Security Settings and you can list three to five e-pals, who can help you log back into the site before your farm goes belly up. Contact them and let them know you need in, and they’ll get a security code and instructions to help you get back to the wall.

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Source: Facebook

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How Tencent’s Walled User List Ended Up Boosting Its Userbase

Tencent lobby

Tencent’s social blogging site, Qzone, has Asia’s largest active social network user base, with 600 million (and counting) users who log in more than twice a month.

Besides Qzone, the Chinese Internet giant is perhaps better known for its flagship QQ instant messenger and the exploding WeChat smartphone messaging app.

I spoke to Peter Zheng, vice president of Tencent’s social network group. He’s been overseeing Qzone’s evolution for the past eight years. He told me that when Qzone was launched in 2005, it was initially planned as a Geocities-style blog community, before the company decided to add social aspects by linking blogs to users’ QQ accounts. “Luckily, when we started, Facebook wasn’t common in China. There were some challenges from other platforms like microblogs such as Weibo, but these [Twitter-like channels] are quite public, and people saw QZone as a more private space,” he said.

It wasn’t always supposed to be walled, but QZone inherited the company’s older QQ contact list that added people based on user IDs, not more universal identifiers like email addresses or phone numbers. And unlike what we’re used to on Facebook or LinkedIn for example, you can’t see who your friends’ friends are because of the way those lists were architected, said Zheng.

“For a while, we were concerned that that made it hard for people to expand their friends lists. Our legacy was closed, and we thought it hindered the expansion of the network,” he said. But it seemed to work out. “Over time, our users told us that they didn’t want to add contacts the way you do on Facebook. When everyone is added deliberately because you sought them out, you’re just adding buddies you want to share your updates with. Turns out that was a way to keep your friend circles tight, and our users are keener to share on Qzone because of that,” he said.

This is the mantra of some of the “private” sharing platforms like Path—some with more success than others—but Tencent seems to have stumbled upon the working formula and had its popularity multiplied by the sheer volume of users coming onboard in its home country.

Over 100 million users concurrently on Qzone, with most of them concentrated in China

Another way it has fueled its user growth is an early emphasis on the mobile phone. The Qzone app was released in early 2010, and included features like photo filters and the option to record voice memos. While a typical Twitter or Tumblr user would take a photo, open it in a separate app to dress it up, then open the blogging app to post it, all of this can be done within Qzone’s app, reducing the friction to post. (Instagram was launched towards Fall 2010.)

The Qzone app has also added features that caught on with Asian users earlier than they did in the West, such as decorative water marks. “Asian users like to decorate their photos, not just filter them,” he said. Qzone’s app also allows users to add a voice clip as a status update, or tag it to a photo. “That makes it feel more personal. You can send a gift and attach a voice clip from the phone too,” Zheng said.

When he showed me a typical Qzone page, I was boggled by how busy the page was, with animations and audio. “It’s almost like MySpace,” I say.

“Sort of,” he agreed. “But it isn’t really the form factor that matters the most. Maintaining the relationship with your existing user base and keeping them happy goes a long way. You want to be on the social network that your friends are on, and always keeping it fresh means users stay happy.”

Tapping the ideas of 22,000

It is here in Shenzhen’s hi-tech district that Zheng’s 2,000 or so engineers work on Qzone. The Tencent headquarters is a sprawling skyscraper, dwarfing its myriad grey-washed neighbors. While I had problems getting my cab driver to register exactly where I wanted to be in the already famous Hua Qiang Bei cluster, simply saying “Tencent” in English got him to immediately acknowledge, exclaiming “Teng Xun Da Sha”, which translates to Tencent Plaza in Mandarin.

Started in 1998, Tencent is China’s largest Internet company by revenue, and was the first Internet company in the country to break through the $1 billion revenue mark in 2009.

My arrival at the headquarters was kicked off with a tour of the impressive lobby showcase area. A big, gleaming board reflected how many users were concurrently on QQ—156 million that Wednesday afternoon, with a peak of 172 million. The company counts an active user as someone who logs in more than twice a month, and by that measure, has an impressively high retention rate of 700 million out of its 1 billion total users worldwide.

156 million users chatting on QQ instant messenger at the same time

“This is the same tour that our CEO, Pony Ma, gave to (Chinese Communist Party general secretary) Xi Jinping when he visited,” informed my guide in impeccable English. I asked her how long she’s been working for Tencent, and she said she’s been with the company for the past two years since she graduated. “I do not consider myself young here,” she said, shaking her head.

And perhaps she can’t. The average age of Tencent’s 22,000 employees is merely 26—a feat made possible by an aggressive, ongoing hiring campaign that takes Tencent to tertiary institutions in the country in order to sniff out their finest.

The constant influx of fresh blood could be one of the reasons why Tencent has kept up with China’s relatively young Internet population. China’s average age across its user base is just 25, while in the US, that number is much higher at 42.

How do you juggle ideas coming in from thousands of young, enthusiastic minds? “Unfortunately, you have to cancel projects if they don’t work after a certain time, usually several weeks or months,” said Zheng.

“There are no bad ideas, only bad execution. So we give all ideas a fair chance, but we look for teams with bad execution and we do kill their projects,” he said.

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